Developing an Evaluation Tool for Assessing Environmental Field Days
A team of experts and practitioners from across the country are creating an observation tool that can be used to optimize the learning experience for elementary and middle school students attending Environmental / Outdoor Education Field Days.
Experts work to build the observation tool and clarify components.
Environmental Field Days such as Children's Water Festivals, Conservation Days and Agriculture Days provide a distinct opportunity to help students understand their natural world. They are often seen as a starting point for young people to gain first-hand knowledge and experience about science as it relates to the environment. During a Field Day, students usually visit six to eight stations, for approximately 30 minutes each, and engage in hands-on activities taught by volunteers who are frequently scientists working for local, State, or Federal agencies or nongovernmental organizations. In Minnesota alone, over 12,000 students attend these day long programs each year.
Under increasing pressure to meet performance standards, teachers and schools need to know how Field Days prepare students to meet State and National Standards in science; math and social studies and how they support STEM skills and objectives. State, federal and other professionals who teach at these events need to know their investment is worthwhile for students.
Students watch a demonstration at a Milaca, Minnesota Field Day.
An observation tool was developed through controlled input from a national panel of 40 experts. It was field test in the spring of 2007 and refined. Thirty volunteers were trained in fall 2007 to use the tool. They attended 4 separate Field Days with thousands of students in attendance. Results of their observations were used to make sure the tool is reliable. Focus groups were also held with these observers to build an understanding of the usability of both the tool and the training. In 2008, the observation tool will be further tested by observers in Minnesota and Maryland.
Primary Strategic Outcome Goal
- Research Infrastructure – This project is building advanced instrumentation in the form of a comprehensive, research- and expert-based evaluation tool for environmental field days. Both quantitative and qualitative data support that the tool is useful and is measuring the constructs found in informal science education.
Secondary Strategic Outcome Goal
- Discovery – This research is formative in nature such that it pushes the boundary of both learning and teaching in the informal science arena. It identifies the bar for educators to strive for in optimizing the students learning environment. It encourages change through a collaborative team of teachers, presenters and organizers, all contributing to the students intended outcomes.
- Learning – Field Days are connecting students to professional agencies and scientist that study the natural world, making it less foreign and friendlier, allowing them to discover both aptitudes and career choices in the sciences.
Group orientation at the Milaca, Minnesota, field day.
Why is this research outcome notable and/or important, and how does it address the strategic outcome goal(s) as described in the NSF Strategic Plan 2006-2011?
This project constitutes an important opportunity to motivate and engage students who may have had little interest in STEM subjects and encourage student development of critical thinking skills.
Does this highlight represent transformative research? Yes
This project is building capacity of field days to contribute to student learning. Through development of the observation tool for field days, organizers and presenters of field days for elementary students can utilize the tool as they build their field days to better reach educational goals. Through the observation and evaluation process, these people can receive research supported feedback on ways that they can improve the educational benefit provided to student attendees through field days. As such, it is revolutionizing the ways field days are understood and presented to explicitly connect to educational goals and stimulating critical thinking in students.
Does this highlight represent Broadening Participation? No
...but it does seek to improve the educational value of student participation.
Are there any existing or potential societal benefits, including benefits to the U.S. economy, of this research of which you are aware? No
If so, please describe the benefits.
It is important for NSF to be able to provide examples of NSF-supported research that have or may have societal benefits.
PI Name: Stephan Carlson, Ph.D.
NSF Award Number: 0635559
Award Title: Developing an Evaluation Tool for Environmental Field Days
Institution: University of Minnesota
This project is supported through funding from the: